Learnings gleaned during the current global COVID-19 pandemic can help missionaries with future successes, and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf counseled full-time missionaries to “focus on the things you can do and not on the things you cannot do,” repeating the charge for emphasis.
“This principle is especially true during this time of uncertainty” added the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chair of the Church’s Missionary Executive Committee as he spoke in a virtual missionary devotional broadcast today, Aug. 13, to all serving worldwide, including those attending online MTC sessions at home.
He highlighted technology — including smartphones and social media — as one tool of many inspired means to share the Lord’s gospel in normal and natural ways, telling missionaries not to underestimate its value.
The theme of technology was laced throughout his devotional remarks, as Elder Uchtdorf looked at the pandemic’s impact on the missionary force of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and recalled a landmark 1974 talk on missionary work and reminded the missionaries of their role in the Great Commission in “making disciples.”
And he also offered a word of caution.
“When public restrictions are lifted again, be wise to resist the temptation of going back to the ‘old ways,’ which too often didn’t work too well anyway. You need to ‘go back to the future’ — and I promise you a very bright future with new and exciting opportunities. This work will move forward and upward.”
Elder Uchtdorf began by giving “a flavor of the situation we are in at this time” — a brief look at how the pandemic impacted missionaries and mission leaders.
In early February, prior to the global outbreak, almost 68,000 missionaries were serving full time. By late April, after pandemic-adjustment releases, the number dropped to about 42,000. Today’s total exceeds 52,000 missionaries.
When the Church returned missionaries to their home countries, nearly 32,000 were relocated in a relatively short timeframe.
Presently, some 400 missionaries in missions worldwide have extended their service, unable to return home, he said. Also, 24 mission presidents and companions have extended their assignments to accommodate travel and visa restrictions, while 21 local couples have been called to serve as interim mission leaders until replacements arrive.
And missionaries in more than 200 missions of the Church’s 407 total missions are working mainly from their apartments by using technology and other means to share the gospel.
“These are challenging times for our worldwide missionary service,” he said, adding that God has not been surprised by the events that have put the world in commotion. “He has prepared the means to help us take the gospel to the people of this world in these extraordinary days.”
President Kimball’s 1974 address
Elder Uchtdorf recalled President Spencer W. Kimball’s April 1974 address on missionary work, “When the World Will Be Converted.” The late Church president called for “better and additional methods of approaches” for missionaries, saying “I believe the Lord is anxious to put into our hands inventions of which we laymen have hardly had a glimpse.”
President Kimball also expressed anticipation for advances in new satellite technology as well as for a time when people worldwide could “hear the sound [of the gospel] in their own language and in a manner that they can grasp and understand.”
Said Elder Uchtdorf: “He envisioned a day when missionaries could be supplied with handheld devices that would help them teach the gospel. Fifty years ago, he was thinking of small recording devices, but the Lord had much bigger plans, recognizing what is possible today.”
The Apostle underscored current missionary use of smartphones, social media and other technology. “It has been said that the recent pandemic may have been a ‘divine reset’ that could help us recalibrate our efforts to reach more people — and especially a younger audience.”
Past missionaries may have limited their thinking about how to take the gospel to the world, using technology only when forced to by geographic distances, he said.
“Now, in the wake of what we have learned through this difficult period of time, we realize that the use of technology is a blessing in ways we had not considered. Instead of being the last resort, technology needs to be considered upfront as an option for us to become more efficient and effective.”
Elder Uchtdorf emphasized the significance of “making disciples” from “the Great Commission”: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, New King James Version).
To be commissioned by the Savior means He has formally chosen disciples to carry on the work of the Father, said Elder Uchtdorf, with the commission resting with the living Apostles today, as it did in ancient times. “You missionaries have been called, set apart, and commissioned to assist the Savior and living Apostles in this great work.”
Encouraging his listeners to share the gospel “in normal and natural ways,” Elder Uchtdorf said effective missionaries from the scriptures and throughout modern Church history have connected with people, related to them, showed an interest in them and shared what they felt in their own hearts.
He encouraged today’s missionaries to use social and technology skills already learned in their youth and to apply them in reaching out to people in person or through modern technology.
“The shift from your lives before your full-time missions to what you do as missionaries will be easier to negotiate if you interact with people in normal and natural ways. Remember that they are, just like you, children of Heavenly Father. They are your brothers and sisters.”
The Apostle also invited missionaries to serve and minister to others, helping Church members in their efforts to invite others to “come and help, come and see, and come and belong.”
He mentioned two of the many blessings the came from selfless service — that those who serve feel part of a greater cause, and that service to others helps foster people’s interest in the missionaries and their purpose.
An invitation and promise
Elder Uchtdorf closed by showing the 1898 Frans Schwartz painting “Agony in the Garden,” a copy of which is in his home office. He cited the Old Testament’s prophecy of Jesus’ suffering in Gethsemane — “I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me” (Isaiah 63:3) — and the New Testament verse, “And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43).
“Because of the great and infinite sacrifice of the living Son of God, you and I never have to travel such a lonely path,” Elder Uchtdorf said. “Repentance and forgiveness, hope and happiness, are available to you and me because of Jesus Christ our Master. He will walk beside you, and He will send angels to strengthen you in the hour of need.
“The Savior of the world invites you to trust Him. He promises hope and peace to your souls. He asks you to not be afraid but to have courage. This invitation and promise are specifically for you. You are called to serve and share the good news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with all people and nations.”